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`Success is a sweet struggle'

PHOTO: SHAJU JOHN

In the quicksands of Tamil filmdom, where career graphs fluctuate every Friday, director Shankar's has been a steady success story. Having walked the tightrope between social responsibility and entertainment, "Gentleman" Shankar proves he still has the grit of "Indian" to strike a distinct note in Kollywood. Cool as the "Boys" in a refreshing aqua-tone shirt, Shankar could pass off as any of those executives lounging at the Taj Coromandel. But get talking, and his refined taste, inventive flair and sensitivity surface.

His partner for the Take Two, Harris Jayaraj also radiates positive energy. Not one to wear success on his sleeve, Harris is full of shy smiles as the conversation flits between the serious and the light-hearted. "Minnalae", "Kakha Kakha", "Saamy"... Harris has steered clear of dreary conventions in music making. "Anniyan" too proves his relentless quest for freshness. As the two moved from the Poolside to The Patio and later the lobby at the hotel, just two days before the release of "Anniyan",

T. Krithika Reddy recorded their tête-à-tête.

Shankar: I'm usually cool before the release of my films. But this time, the hype makes me a bit nervous. What about you?

Harris: I'm cool, as usual.

Shankar: As usual? (Laughs)

Harris: For me, the tension is over. Now like any film fan, I'm just excited about the film. There was a certain suspense about "Anniyan." For me, the music was a challenge because the film was a mix of genres - action, comedy, thriller... One minute, I felt as if I was scoring music for "Brave Heart", the next minute it was like "Matrix" and soon the mood would shift to "Ten Commandments" mode.

Shankar: And suddenly a "Sankarabharanam" flavour would slip in... (They laugh under the scorching evening sun by the Poolside)

Harris: In essence, it was a cock-mocktail as I used to joke. And I'm 90 per cent satisfied with the outcome.

Shankar: You know, good creators are never 100 per cent happy. In a way that's nice because there's headspace for improvement.

Harris: It was quite a long project.

Shankar: See, our job is creative. We have to wait for that magic moment to happen — for that right voice or that ideal screenplay. It's a constant search. Also, sometimes it's difficult for all the artistes to give bulk dates.

Harris: Yes, I understand. But it's thanks to you. Usually, when filmmakers approach me, they ask for songs on the lines of the hits in "Minnalae", "Kakha Kakha" or "Saamy". You were clear at the outset that the music for "Anniyan" had to be different. And another thing I appreciate is the freedom I enjoyed.

Shankar: The older women in my family generally take time to accept today's film songs. But this time, they instantly got hooked.

Harris: Sir, this interview is supposed to be a chat between the two of us. We've become chat items (Laughs) So, let me ask you, how did "Anniyan" evolve?

Shankar: As a common man, so many happenings in society disturb me. These leave scars on my mind. In fact, they are my creative spur. I react to social happenings on an imaginative plane. To me, films should be a combination of message and entertainment — without one overtaking the other. People don't take easily to health food because it's insipid. Likewise, if the message is overpowering and the film devoid of entertainment value, there will be no takers.

Harris: But living up to expectations every time...

Shankar: Yes, success is a struggle. (Smiles) Sweet struggle. Even you know how difficult it is. For the "Randaka" number for instance, we took three days to get the sounds. It's an aesthetic folk number with a heavy track that doesn't disturb the ear. Ta ra ra ra ra... (Starts singing blissfully with eyes closed). See, the melody is haunting. As for me, the theme of "Anniyan" was not something that could be easily translated onto celluloid. Besides, how could I hold people's attention for two-and-a-half hours with such a subject? Because of films like "Gentleman", "Indian" and "Mudhalvan", the expectations of the audience are high. I wouldn't like to disappoint them. And because of this, the budget too goes up. But I will deliver — without compromising on quality. "Indian" and "Mudhalvan" did create a stir among the public, you know. So tell me Harris, what are your other projects?

Harris: There's "Thottijaya", "Gajini" and "Vetaiyadu Vilayadu". Fortunately, I've been working on neat, hassle-free projects. My fans too have a certain expectation of me — though I love to experiment. Other than films, what are your interests?

Shankar: Films are kind of all consuming. But I love playing badminton.

Harris: I love watching badminton. (Laughter)

Shankar: I'm reminded of an actress who said she could speak Hindi, understand Tamil, write English and listen to Bengali. (They are in splits)

Harris: How was the journey from Kumbakonam to Kodambakkam?

Shankar: The climb up was difficult. I had no godfathers. Neither did I hail from a wealthy/educated family. But looking back, I feel that anyone can realise his dreams provided he is focussed and sincere. I'm not just saying this to give false hopes to youngsters. It's true as you can see in my case. Was music on your mind since childhood, Harris?

Harris: My family was full of musicians. My dad got me my first guitar at the age of five when I couldn't even reach the strings. I broke it in a few minutes.

It took a while for him to afford another guitar. After my eighth grade at Trinity College, I switched to playing the keyboard at the age of 14.

I travelled a lot and worked with 40 composers before making my debut as a music director. But there is a difference between being a composer and a musician. As different as day and night...

Shankar: But all these experiences must have helped you. I learn a lot from others — even from their mistakes and plan my life and career accordingly.

Harris: True, even stalwarts sink because of small mistakes and weaknesses. Okay, your taste for music is so versatile. How did you develop it?

Shankar: My affinity for classical strains is because of my childhood in Kumbakonam.

As for light music, there was a kalyana mandapam next door to where I stayed, so I was tuned in.

Later, when I did my polytechnic course in Chennai, I got hooked to rock and pop, thanks to my classmates. And since I stayed close to Kannamapet, even downright dappankuthu interested me. (Laughter)

Harris: So what after "Anniyan?"

Shankar: I've worked non-stop for 15 months. I'm going on a holiday.

I need to clear my thoughts and make room for fresh air to flow in. Are you anxious about the "Anniyan" verdict?

Harris: Music needs to grow on the listener, so I usually give the audience more time to respond. Besides, success or failure, I just think it's God's will and move on. What about you?

Shankar: Whether it's a hit or miss, I'll think it never happened to me (laughs).

I live for the present. The future is built on the present. So I'll give this minute my best.

(Like great pals, they pat each other and depart)

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